Former PA adviser says Trump peace plan ‘dormant’

Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at WINEP and former Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s international relations department. 
Sunday 22/03/2020
Ghaith al-Omari (WINEP)
Ghaith al-Omari (WINEP)

Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute's Irwin Levy Family Programme on the US-Israel Strategic Relationship. Prior to that, he held various positions within the Palestinian Authority, including director of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s international relations department.

He has worked closely on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process for decades, having served as an adviser to the Palestinians’ negotiating team during permanent status negotiations from 1999-2001. In that capacity, he participated in various negotiating rounds, most notably the Camp David summit and the Taba talks.

Omari is a lawyer by training and a graduate of Georgetown and Oxford universities. Before focusing on the Middle East peace process, he taught international law in Jordan and worked in human rights advocacy.

He spoke with The Arab Weekly as the coronavirus began prompting countries around the world to limit travel and as coalition-building continued in Israel following recent elections.

The Arab Weekly (TAW): “What might happen to the Trump peace plan, announced earlier this year but rejected by a majority of countries?”

Ghaith al-Omari (GAO): “From a traditional diplomatic angle, for now the plan seems to be dormant in the sense that Palestinian diplomacy has managed to create a near universal rejection of this plan.

“However, there are two other scenarios that are possible. One is if we have a second Trump administration, it is likely we will have a renewed push to get it more widely adopted. One expects, if there is a second administration, there will be diplomatic energy around it.

“The second issue is, of course, what happens in Israel because this plan potentially could give the green light to annexation [of large parts of the West Bank] by Israel. That depends on the outcome of Israeli coalition-building but you can see a scenario in which, if you have a right-wing Israeli government, while the plan itself might not go forward, aspects of it that relate to annexation start being implemented.”

TAW: “Do you think the Arab world is united in its rejection?”

GAO: “I don’t think it’s united. I think what we see in the Arab world are two sets of dynamics.

“One, and this is almost universal among Arabs particularly in the Gulf, is a decoupling of the peace process from bilateral relations with Israel and this is something that will go on. So the not-so-secret, behind-the-scenes security and sometimes economic links, they will continue.

“On the other hand, most Arab countries will support the Palestinians no matter what the Palestinians say on issues related to the peace process. However, the support will vary in intensity. Some countries will very proactively push for the Palestinian position, some countries will be more passive and that depends on how these countries see the conflict through the lenses of its own national priorities.”

TAW: “What, if anything, can be done in response to the Trump plan?”

GAO: “I think there is something to be done. The wisest course of action right now would be for the Palestinians with Arab support to come up with a counteroffer. I think what’s been happening over the last few weeks, since the peace plan was released, was an image of the Palestinians yet again solidifying as rejectionist.

“I think the way to deal with it is for the Palestinians to present a realistic counteroffer. If they wait until a second Trump administration, it might be too late for them to do that. I think this is the time and, in many ways, they have an opening now.”

TAW: “What is the likelihood of the Palestinians making a counteroffer?”

GAO: “Unfortunately minimal and it’s minimal not because there is no counteroffer. I mean the Palestinians, especially the negotiators, know the extent of the compromises they’re willing to make and yet I think the Palestinian leadership feels politically very weak in domestic terms and the Palestinian leadership is facing a legitimacy crisis, a legitimacy deficit.

“In this situation, they are too cautious and too politically weak to present a counteroffer so, while this might be the wisest move from a national perspective, I fear political weakness will make them unwilling or unable to do so.”

TAW: “What might happen if Israel moved ahead with any annexation moves?”

GAO: “Will there be violence? This is the question and no one knows. So far, we’ve seen very little appetite for violence and I think the trauma of the second intifada is still real for many Palestinians but in these situations of volatility we simply do not know how things will move.

“The second thing is given the political fragility of the [Palestinian Authority] PA, this could be the moment that pushes it over the edge…The PA will not disband itself, there are too many vested interests but it might come to a point when it becomes irrelevant and implodes.

“The final point, maybe even more or equally important, is the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan will go through its deepest crisis by far since its entry into force… At a minimum there could be a suspension of diplomatic relations… Given the mood in Jordan, things could go up all the way up to cancellation of the treaty. I doubt there will be cancellation but there could be complete suspension of all political and civilian aspects of the treaty.”